Fred Gutzeit’s roots are on the Bowery just above Prince Street. He has occupied his studio apartment since the 1970s. His momentous ability to be both absurdly aware of his contemporaries and ride his own theoretical momentum has facilitated a vast oeuvre. His work is like a mutated history of the New York scene, annotated by persistent idiosyncrasies. Gutzeit alternates forms, taking as much interest in the magnitude of varied materials as he does in methodology. He geeks out on science and psychology, yet generates work that cuts to the core of emotional questions. Despite careful consideration of sculpture, installation, and digital renderings, his most recent paintings are immediate and visceral. I spoke with Gutzeit to hear more about where he’d been and where he’s going.
Lynn Maliszewski: So what are you working on right now?
Fred Gutzeit: I am grappling with how to be the most natural in doing the SigNature series. I’ve frozen and stylized gesture in these paintings. I consider it a classical way of thinking, where you take something and you shape it to get it to some kind of ideal. I balance it out by working with a process where my line and thus hand gesture aren’t too controlled; the line is imperfect. Right now I’m concerned with what I call ‘color buzz.’ I’m working with color like a musical chord. I’m not concerned with the gestural, physical performance part of it. It’s not Richard Anuszkiewicz and it’s not Willem De Kooning. I’m falling between the cracks as far as what the process is, but I live with that because I have an idea of developing a statement with color and developing the forms. That trumps the gesture for now.
LM: What gets the creative juices flowing?
FG: A good night’s sleep, going out on a good date, being on vacation or reading something. When I sit down to paint I usually pick up right where I left off automatically. When I’m looking into it and trying to solve problems, I’m thinking of all kinds of ideas. Too many ideas come up when I’m painting. This has been the process for almost as long as I’ve been working in art. Extra ideas are kind of maddening because I can’t work on everything at once so I jot it down in sketchbooks throughout the years. They’re like money in the bank and my process now is cashing in the bank account. I’m looking back at the sketchbooks and pulling things in.
LM: What do you think your identity is as an artist right now?
FG: Although it was distressing, it rings true: Ivan Carp of OK Harris was notorious for making off-hand, really devastating remarks about work he saw. Nearly 25 years ago, I went to the gallery to get his opinion and he says, “not exactly avant-garde,” then handed my images back to me. I have to accept that what I’m working on is not at the cutting edge. I’m trying to do something as good as possible and push whatever I can do with painting to a interesting level by my own interpretation of it. Maybe I can add something to what painting is about, what art is about. I’m creating a language, my language. I haven’t come up with something that stakes out a whole new area in the art world like doing a blank canvas and having people’s shadow be the meaning of it or something like that.
LM: Your work has evolved perceptually and emotionally all within the extreme immediacy of something tactile. Even your digital renderings are somehow lush. Why do you think that is?
FG: You don’t have to read it linearly, you don’t have to look at it from beginning to end. You can see the whole thing. In working on something like this, how you move around it and the scale is the thing. In painting, instead of controlling space, the ultimate is controlling time. You can shape time because you can experience it instantly. I’m looking to find out as much as I can about the real world, experimentally, tangibly if you want to call it that.
LM: How do your immediate surroundings influence you at this point?
FG: I usually have all types of things up that I’m working on, and things I’ve worked on in the past. I look at the current series and it influences me but I also have some key things up as reminders of where I’ve been. I have a drawing up that embodies my first step from realism to abstraction, a transition from outside to inside the studio. I have a print-out of drawings I made in 1968 because I was working with this idea of patterns back then and couldn’t really break it off into something coherent. That’s influencing me to look back into it. Ivan Carp made another comment that really stuck with me, he said, “you can do whatever you want, just make the change gradual.”
Photos By: Masha Maltsava
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